Appropriate to the days in which our lot is cast are the words of lamentation, “Truth is fallen in the street” (Isa. 59:14). In every department of human life truth is despised, doubted, rejected, or ignored. Our political and economic life rests primarily on the interests of individuals and groups. Artistic production is often no more than emotional expression, in many instances degraded or inane. Even in science, philosophy, and theology, where the pursuit and proclamation of truth might be expected to be the supreme concern, the very concept of truth has been abandoned on a large scale. Science has become increasingly the exploration of hypotheses that result in technological achievements of unprecedented practical utility rather than in the attainment of any certain knowledge about the nature of things. Philosophy has developed in two directions, both of which express a despair of attaining objective absolute truth in ultimate issues. Linguistic philosophy occupies itself with analysis of usage in ordinary and scientific discourse rather than with an investigation of the ultimate nature of reality; and existentialism, while not ignoring ultimate issues, denies the objectivity of truth in these matters. Theologians, influenced by these philosophical movements, are content either with religious language that makes no truth claims or with non-propositional truth as “encounter.”

Although the unqualified position that religious language is meaningless or nonsensical is no longer widespread (for the once popular view held by logical positivists, see A. J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, London, 1950, p. 115), views denying any cognitive function to religious language are fashionable at the moment. Professor R. B. Braithwaite has contended that “the primary use of religious assertions is to announce allegiance to a set of moral principles” and that a Christian’s assertion that God is love (agape) should “be taken to declare his intention to follow an agapeistic way of life” (“An Empiricist’s View of the Nature of Religious Belief,” in The Existence of God, ed. John Hick, Macmillan, 1964, pp. 240 f.). From these assumptions, he concludes with inexorable logic that a professing Christian need not believe any doctrine of the creeds or even any part of the gospel history to be true.

Extremes meet in strange ways. The philosophy of linguistic analysis with its emphasis on logic yields results remarkably in agreement with the irrationalistic doctrines of existentialism. Acceptance of the gospel history as true is rendered unnecessary and even impossible on the basis of a non-cognitive view of religious language as well as by a demythologizing program that discovers the essence of the kerygma curiously to coincide with the earlier philosophy of Martin Heidegger. If religious statements are neither true nor false, as logical positivists and analytical philosophers contend, then the historical facts recorded in the Gospels are devoid of religious import. If truth in religion is not propositional but rather an experience of “encounter,” as existentialist theologians claim, then again the gospel history conveys no religious truth. Pilate and Herod are reconciled in their opposition to truth and to him who has declared himself to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

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With this dismal background of our skeptical age in view, we may enunciate a few principles with respect to the universal validity of truth.

1. A truth is a proposition that expresses an actual fact. If it is the case that Moses received the Decalogue on Mount Sinai, then the proposition “Moses received the Decalogue on Mount Sinai” is true. Otherwise it is false. Facts, in the same sense here intended, need not be restricted to historical events or other matters of experience. That 2 + 2 = 4 is also a fact, though a necessary one, and the equation “2 + 2 = 4” is a necessary truth. If a mathematical proposition may be said to express a fact in the wide sense of “fact” we are adopting, so also may the truths of logic and metaphysics. That it is impossible for the same thing both to be and not to be is, in this sense, a fact about reality. The logical law of non-contradiction expresses the corresponding fact about propositions in the order of knowing, i.e., that a proposition cannot be both true and false. This and other laws of logic are often said to be tautologies. If “tautology” simply means “true under all possible conditions” (as may be shown by the device of a truth-table in symbolic logic), then these laws of logic are certainly tautologies, and thus necessary truths. But to be a tautology is not to be non-factual. Any possible fact will necessarily fit into the formal structure exhibited by a tautology of logic. Thus the possible fact of a third world war will and must fit into the law of non-contradiction. It is not the case both that there will be a third world war and also that there will not be such a war. The logical law has also ontological or metaphysical import, since it applies thus to everything possible and, consequently, to what is actual.

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2. In at least two main senses the term “universally valid” may be predicated of truths.

(a) Every truth is universally valid in the sense that it is fact or reality, not human opinion or activity, that determines the truth of propositions. It follows that all men ought to give assent to true propositions and only to true propositions. Believing that a proposition is true does not make the proposition true, but a true proposition ought to be believed because it is true. Even such a proposition as “I believe that the Bible is God’s Word” is not true on condition of my belief that it is true. I may, by reason of the deceitfulness of my heart, believe falsely that I believe the Bible. If and only if it is a fact that I believe the Bible, can I say truly that I believe it to be the Word of God. The truth of the Bible is independent of my believing that the Bible is true. The truth of my believing the Bible is likewise independent of my believing that I believe that the Bible is true. Man’s unbelief does not make the truth of God of no effect. Nor do the doubts and fears that may harass a troubled saint make of no effect the saving faith instilled in his heart by the regenerating work of the Spirit of God. Truth as such or in its being is independent of mental attitudes, whether belief or unbelief, adopted by individuals toward the truth.

(b) Some truth is also universally valid in the special sense that it is necessary truth, applying without possible exception to all cases. Thus “2 + 2 = 4” is true independent of considerations of time, place, or circumstances. “It is snowing” has to be qualified in terms of time, place, and possibly other respects before it can be decided to be a true or false proposition. But when formulated unequivocally and determinately, even a proposition stating a singular event is determinately true or false. In this sense, the truths of history and everyday life, no less than the equations of mathematics and the tautologies of formal logic, are objective and absolute. With respect to their infallible certainty, the former as well as the latter may even be called necessary truths.

There is no great gulf fixed between necessary truths of reason and ordinary truths of fact. While a distinction between the two is convenient and possesses a relative validity, truth is a unity in the last analysis. In the order of the world established by God, universal law and particular fact are made to fit each other. The all-embracing Providence of God determines the minutest particulars as well as the laws of highest generality. In God’s eye not only is the principle of universal gravitation a necessary truth, but also the fall of a sparrow. The unity in which all truths are bound together in “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” warrants us to speak not merely of truths but also of truth. Truth is the system, consistent and complete, in which all truths find their appointed place.

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Truths concerning the subjective experiences of individual souls are dependent on other more fundamental truths and are themselves no less objective than truths about the facts or laws of the external world. For this reason, if no other, the dictum of Kierkegaard expressed in Concluding Unscientific Postscript that “truth is subjectivity” must be condemned as dangerously misleading. (Even if this dictum is capable of a favorable interpretation, it is more easily understood otherwise.) Personal experience of the power of the Gospel is all important for the salvation of the individual’s soul, but the truth of the Gospel is not dependent on subjective experience. On the contrary, saving experience is the effect of the application of the truth of the Gospel, which is true prior to the experience of its power. We must distinguish (1) the truth of the Gospel, (2) the fact of my experience of this truth, and (3) the truth that my experience of the truth of the Gospel is a fact. To confuse these three distinct matters is to undermine the foundations of faith, both the objective faith that is believed to be true and the subjective faith by which it is believed.

A leading objection to the universal validity of truth is the observation that in matters of philosophy and religion, men are not able to come to any substantial agreement on fundamentals. If truth is valid for all men, it is argued, ought not all men to be in agreement? Or at least should it not be possible, as with mathematicians and scientists, to devise ways of settling disputed questions?

In reply to this objection, a few observations may be made briefly.

1. That all men ought to agree as to ultimate truth does not imply that all men in fact must agree, or even that all men, by the unaided use of reason, can come to agreement. Arguments from “ought” to “is” or even to “can” should be regarded as suspect. Men ought to be perfect, but they are not, nor can they become so by their unaided efforts. The Christian system of truth includes an explanation of the fact that many men refuse to believe it. It is not that truth is subjective or relative but that human subjectivity has been deformed by sin in its intellectual as well as in its other capacities. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). By the manifestation of the truth, faithful ministers of the Gospel commend themselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. The Gospel, if hid, is hid to them that are lost, “in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:4).

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2. On some matters there is reason to hold that there is more agreement than is often admitted. Belief in a Supreme Being and a sense of moral obligation are natural to man, as the Epistle to the Romans makes clear (1:19, 20; 2:14, 15). Men may suppress their natural religious, moral, and metaphysical tendencies; but the impression made by the starry heavens above and the voice of conscience within man remains ineradicable, as not only Calvin but even Kant may testify.

3. The truth of the Gospel is applied savingly only to some particular individuals. This must be admitted to be a condition sufficient for agreement and necessary for experiential knowledge of gospel truth. Yet even in this life it is not a necessary condition for intellectual assent to the truth of the Gospel. Unregenerate men may have a historical faith in gospel truth, and some such as Lord Lyttleton and Nathaniel West may even be converted by a study of the evidences of Christianity. According to the New Testament, devils confess not only the unity of God but also the deity of Christ, and one day all the lost will be obliged to join in this confession. The truth of Christianity will be verified in fact by all minds at the last day. To demand universal agreement prematurely is to beg the question at issue.

There is an old and true saying that truth is its own best defense. The truth of God does not require man’s defense, nor does man’s lie have any other effect than that the truth of God abounds more to his glory.

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